Expect the unexpected in Olympic trials

This year, the Winter Olympic Games will be held in Sochi, Russia from February 7 to 23. Already, the events leading up to this year’s games seems to exemplify a certain mantra: expect the unexpected. Whether it’s participating athletes, countries or the implications of Russia and Vladimir Putin hosting these games, there are bound to be several unique storylines that will define them for more casual followers over the next month.

To start things off, Shaun White, one of the most popular and successful professional snowboarders in the United States, took a nasty spill during his qualifier last week. White hadn’t gone down like that in quite a long time and was expected to be a shoo-in for the Games. Yet this crash made things interesting for White as he finished last out of 13 qualifiers in that round. Not so shockingly, however, White did so well in the half-pipe trials that he was able to qualify on his first run. Shaun does have two gold medals in the half-pipe and is looking to become the first American to win three golds in the same Winter Olympic event this year. Knowing White’s skill and reputation, his competition should be one of the more “sure things” at these Games.

One of the more heartwarming stories within the United States realm this year involves two twin sisters competing in the biathlon. Lanny and Tracy Barnes have been training together for the past fifteen years. While on a hike a few weeks ago, Tracy told her sister that she was giving  her spot in the games to her. Lanny had gotten sick and missed three of the four qualifying races, yet she still only finished one spot behind Tracy. Knowing her sister’s talent and work ethic, Tracy reasoned that Lanny deserved to go more than she did and graciously gave up her spot. In 2010, Lanny had had the fastest American time in the biathlon since 1994, yet felt as if she could have done better. Perhaps this gift was Lanny’s golden ticket to glory?

In 2014, Jamaica has a bobsled team. They have qualified for the Winter Games for the first time since 2002. Jamaica’s bobsled team first qualified in 1988 where their underdog appearance inspired the film Cool Runnings, yet this year, their appearance is not quite guaranteed. The team did qualify for the two-man competition, yet they do not have nearly enough funding to make the journey. The team needs around $80,000 which it does not have at the moment, yet all hope is not lost as 46 year-old sled driver Winston Watts is determined to get the team to Russia.  Watts believed the team will get the support it needs to compete.  And sure enough, in just about two days time, an online fundraising site entitled Crowdtilt managed to raise over $25,000 for the team.  Hopefully with further support Jamaica can make a famed appearance.

Amid all of the personal stories surrounding this year’s Winter Games (of which this article barely scraped the surface), perhaps the more looming and overarching stories deal with the location of the games themselves. In the past, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered his not-so-subtle opinion of gays, creating an anti-gay law, outlawing what it believes is “propaganda” of what it calls “non-traditional sexual relations” around minors, as Putin himself believed it would “keep the children safe.”  Naturally, this has stirred mass controversy beginning with its announcement and implementation. Now that athletes from across the world will be temporarily migrating to Russia, their concern for the President’s views as well as the laws themselves have been immensely heightened. Putin did say that no guests would have any problems and he “couldn’t care less” about the sexual orientation of Olympic guests and participants, yet this general blanket statement is not nearly satisfying enough for a man who has run and delegated his country according to such a code. Several world leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and French President Francois Hollande have refused to attend the games. Yet this controversy is not all that has Olympic athletes and fans throughout the world worried about the Sochi games.

This past Sunday, a video emerged featuring two men who were believed to be suicide bombers from the bombings in Volgograd, Russia last month spoke of the games.  According to an article by Laura Smith-Spark and Catherine E. Schoicet, the men stated  “We’ve prepared a present for you and all tourists who’ll come over. If you will hold the Olympics, you’ll get a present from us for the Muslim blood that’s been spilled.”

The men go on to say they have a list of people who are prepared to help them take part in these actions; effectively enough for an attack every day. The Russian government, however, seems confident that they have every possible security measure in place. Despite some controversial opinions from several American politicians, it seems as if the Russians are confident in their security.

Unfortunately the only thing most people can do here is sit and wait. Whether viewers are more caught up in the journey of the Jamaican bobsled team and Lanny Barnes or the controversy and potential danger surrounding Sochi (two stories on opposite ends of the intensity spectrum), this year’s games will certainly make a lasting impression. Let us all just hope they end up having much more to do with the former stories and little to nothing to do with the latter.

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